some useful advice I've found for my silly mistake epidemic...

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The Silly Mistake epidemic

This is the number one reason why even the best math brains end up scoring 750-790 instead of the perfect score. This phenomenon is so common, that only a very few are gifted with the eternal vigilance necessary to avoid being struck by it. I was so vexed with it myself that I thought I was doomed to make a small mistake somewhere. By making yourself aware of the common types of silly mistakes you can greatly reduce becoming susceptible to them. What you have to do is to constantly keep them at the back of your mind during the test, and while solving a problem, just run a mental check to see whether your approach falls prey to most common types. Since each individual may find different concepts problematic, the best remedy is to make a list of your own math vices, which can be drawn from the many practice exercises that you solve. After a while, you’ll start seeing a pattern where you make the same kind of silly mistakes again and again. Note them down carefully. For example, some of the common types of silly mistakes are as follows.

1.Not considering zero, fractions and negative numbers while solving inequalities or picking numbers. Remember that when ETS say a number is real, it can be positive, negative, fractional or zero. Don’t assume it’s always positive and don’t draw your own conclusions.

2.Taking leave of common sense. Sometimes we get so involved with the nitty-gritties of mathematics that we start functioning like automatons and stop thinking. Don’t fall prey to this trap. For example, what is the probability that a number amongst the first 1000 positive integers is divisible by 8? Don’t start counting the multiples of 8! The figure of 1000 is a red herring. Use a little common sense. The numbers will be 8,16,24,32…So, 1 in every 8 numbers is a multiple of 8, even if you consider the first million integers. So Probability is 1/8 (Question from Power-Prep.)

3.Not drawing figures. Drawing figures, especially in questions relating to geometry, speed, etc. makes the question ten times easier to understand. Drawing figures also makes the question more true to life. For example, if ETS tells you that Sally lives 10 miles due west of John and Anna lives 14 miles due north of John, you can bet your farm they want you to use the Pythagoras theorem. Don’t miss the obvious; draw a diagram.

4.Forgetting definitions. If you forget that 1 is not a prime number, you’re making life hard for yourself. Definition questions are the easiest to solve.

The single most important requirement – The ‘open sky’ approach.

This is not really my brainchild and I read about it on some IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) website. They summed it up in one sentence straight: “To do well on the GRE you require a free and uncluttered mind”. This is so true. It was pathetic to see so many students on the test day, outside the test center, with open books, cramming something last minute. If you have to keep referring to your book (and unfortunately for them, on the test day) then you haven’t prepared well since you aren’t sure of yourself. Learn everything you can lay your hands on, but on the test day, your mind should be totally blank. Your mind should be like a Swiss Army Knife with all it’s blades in closed posisition, but ready to whip out any one when necessary. You never know what concept you may have to use on your test question, but you should feel confident that it’s there somewhere in your mind and that you can recall it when necessary. Sure, you’ll get your share of jitters on the test day, but those should not arise from a lack of confidence.

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